16

Cases of Corruption

It is the considered view of several members of the Tenth Lok Sabha who were interviewed for this book that the conduct of some of their colleagues is none too flattering. They talk of a whole range of misdemeanours from petty sins (subletting their flats) to selling their patronage (permitting big business and industry to rest its guns on their shoulders) and to giving their mercenary instincts full play (selling domestic gas and telephone quotas). The sum total of these views makes depressing reading but it would be tendentious to tar them all with a black brush.

One of the most heartening aspects of these interviews has been the open and uninhibited manner in which many interview­ees responded to unpleasant queries about the conduct of MPs and expressed their fears about Parliament's inability to deal with the erring members. This body of concerned MPs which provides Parliament with the moral fibre to deal with recalcitrant members, will, hopefully, assert itself in time to come.

For the moment, however, it seems as if'an era of promiscuity has been ushered in, ignoring the early warnings that were avail­able and overlooking the ground rules that were sought to be laid way back in the early 1950s.

The infamous Mudgal case that shook the Provisional Parlia­ment in 1951 and the Tul Mohan Ram affair which gained equal notoriety in 1974 are two of the most well known cases of MPs indulging in corrupt practices.
In both these cases the MPs involved had maladroitly crossed the "lakshman rekha" — the mythical line of morality — and clothed themselves and Parliament in scandal.

Each of these cases need to be discussed, not only to highlight the moral questions involved but also to examine the extent to which Parliament absorbed the lessons that flowed from them.

THE MUDGAL CASE

The Mudgal case came into the open when Prime Minister Jawa-harlal Nehru moved a motion in the Provisional Parliament on June 6, 1951 for constitution of a five- member committee headed by T.T. Krishnamachari to probe the conduct and activities of one of its members, H.G. Mudgal. Mudgal was accused of receiving financial and business advantages from the Bombay Bullion Asso­ciation for "canvassing support and making propaganda in Parlia­ment on problems like option business, stamp duty, etc".1

The Prime Minister got the first whiff of scandal when P.S. Nadkarni, a nominee of the Bombay government's finance depart­ment on the board of the Bullion Association, spilled the beans after sitting through a meeting of the Association on March 9, 1951.

Nadkarni was taken aback when Jwalaprasad Tiwari, presi­dent of the association told the meeting that H.G. Mudgal, a Mem­ber of Parliament, had offered to drum up support for the association in Parliament for a fee of Rs 20,000. Tiwari said he would negotiate with the MP, if the Board were to Support his move.

The government official reported the matter to his official su­perior and kept the government posted of further developments. The facts, as available to Nehru, at the time he moved the motion were as follows:

Some members on the board of the Bullion Association doubted the wisdom in having such an arrangement with the MP but the Board finally agreed to pay Mudgal Rs 5000 and author­ised a Committee constituted by it to negotiate with the MP on the propaganda and other work that he was to do.

At another meeting of the Board on March 30,1951, Nadkarni asked the President about the arrangements with Mudgal and was told that the MP had been paid Rs 1000 out of the sanctioned amount of Rs 5000 and that Mudgal was "already moving in the matter actively". Further, the President told him that he would soon be going to Delhi to attend the meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce where Mudgal would "arrange" his interviews, etc., with ministers and MPs.

In the meanwhile Mudgal made two moves which only rein­forced the suspicions about his conduct. On March 20, 1951 he gave notice of a question to Parliament Secretariat which read as follows:

Will the Minister of Finance be pleased to state:

a.
Whether he is aware of the views of the President and Direc­tors of the Bombay Bullion Exchange, namely, that smuggling of bullion and the resultant loss of foreign exchange through the backdoor could be stopped by permitting regulated im­ports of bullion;
b.
Whether government will consider the possibility of free imports of bullion following improvement in our foreign ex­change position;
c.

Whether government will consider the desirability of releasing a portion of surplus gold and silver stocks with it in the open market to bring down the price of bullion in India to world levels so that there will be no incentive to smuggling.

  This question was admitted and answered on April 2,1951.

Mudgal's second move was to write to the Finance Minister, Chintamani Deshmukh asking him to grant an interview to the President and some directors of the Bombay Bullion Association. He got a curt reply from the Finance Minister stating that he would prefer to deal directly with any request for an interview.2

All this prompted the Prime Minister to summon Mudgal and seek his explanation. Nehru had two meetings with the member at which he confronted Mudgal with the evidence on hand. The  member denied the allegation that he had sought a payment of Rs 20,000 from the Bullion Association. His contention was that he was connected with an organisation that published Indian Market, a weekly, and that those on the staff of the weekly did various kinds of work for business people like preparing pamphlets. He had received a total sum of Rs 2700 from the Bullion Association, of which Rs 700 was for printing the Association's memorandum. He also took the stand that his membership of Parliament did not come into the picture and that his organisation had only rendered "straightforward professional service".3

Nehru was unimpressed by Mudgal's defence and decided to move the motion for constitution of a parliamentary committee to investigate into Mudgal's conduct. While doing so, Nehru said "The explanation that he (Mudgal) gave me did not appear to me to be satisfactory".4

During the debate on the motion, the Speaker said that looking at the evidence on hand, he felt that prima facie, there was a case for enquiry. "It is in the interest of the reputation of every member of this House, that there should be an open enquiry so that the public may not have an impression that Members of Parliament are of low calibre and they are capable of accepting some kind of gratification or some kind of satisfaction to do the work in Parlia­ment."5

The Speaker also brushed aside demands for the proceedings being held in camera. "The public will not know what we are do­ing and it is no use keeping back from the public what our true colours are."6

Nehru informed the House that apart from his two meetings with the member, there had been an exchange of correspondence between him and Mudgal and read out the contents of these letters in the House. In one of his letters to the Prime Minister, Mudgal tried to avert a parliamentary investigation by suggesting that the Congress party (of which he was a member) conduct an enquiry. Nehru came up with a statesmanlike response to this suggestion. "1 am afraid" Nehru said "this is neither feasible nor desirable, as the whole House is concerned with this matter. It is not a party question."7

Mudgal held the floor for a great deal of time but the members were unconvinced by his peroration. At the end of a two-day de­bate the House adopted the motion.

Mudgal's attempts to cover-up his actions by using his organ­isation H.G. Mudgal Publications as a camouflage failed to impress the committee, because in the course of its labours, it had stumbled on clinching evidence, to indict the Member. This included a letter written by Mudgal to his assistant on March 18, 1951 asking the latter to obtain at least Rs 7000 from the Bullion Association for work done towards "memorandum, arrangements for delegation and other parliamentary contacts for the rest of the session."8

The committee concluded that all the dealings between the Bombay Bullion Association and H.G. Mudgal Publications on and after March 9,1951 were on the understanding that whatever might be the services that the organisation might render them, "Mudgal also would render services to them.in return for consid­eration paid to H.G. Mudgal services". It further said that services to be rendered by Mudgal were to include putting of questions in Parliament, moving amendments to the Forward Contracts (Regu­lation) Bill and arranging interviews with Ministers etc.9

The committee concluded that Mudgal had entertained "great expectations" from this source and that was why he had specifi­cally asked his assistant to get at least Rs 7000 from the Association for the work done.

Having examined the bank transactions of Mudgal's organisation, the committee discounted Mudgal's claim that he and H.G. Mudgal Publications were two distinct entities.

It found that the cheques in respect of the expenditure incurred by the concern are drawn from the bank account which runs in the name of H.G. Mudgal Publications by Mudgal through self cheques. In other words the distinction sought to be imported had "no foundation in fact".10

Yet another fact that emerged during the investigations and aroused the suspicions of the committee was that Mudgal had cir­culated a pamphlet among businessmen soon after his election to Parliament in early 1950. In this pamphlet which was titled "Your spokesman in Parliament — H.G. Mudgal", the member offered to place his services at the disposal of the business community. Here is an interesting quote from the pamphlet: "Industrialists and busi­nessmen can depend on Mr Mudgal to use his knowledge of mod­ern economics, industry and business to shape our national economic policy on the basis of realism. They can always rely on his enlightened cooperation in fighting for establishing a dynamic and free economy."11

After weighing the evidence at hand and examining several witnesses including Mudgal's assistant, the committee concluded that Mudgal's conduct was derogatory to the dignity of the House and inconsistent with the standards which Parliament is entitled to expect from its members^12

While the report of the committee was unanimous, four of its members chose to append separate notes on the issues that the Mudgal case had thrown up. These members were apparently constrained to present separate notes on the broader issues in­volved because these were matters that fell outside the terms of reference of the committee. These notes — a joint note by Kashi-nathrao Vaidya and K.T. Shah and separate notes by G. Durgabai, and Syed Nausherali — spoke of the need to draw lessons from the Mudgal episode and to frame rules on the conduct of MPs. This, they said was necessary because Parliament had made no law on the subject.

The most significant of these is the note by Durgabai in which she listed 12 injunctions for MPs based on conventions that had been established in the U.K and U.S.A. Vaidya and Shah relied on May's Parliamentary Practice and came up with five general prin­ciples.13

Taken together, the sound principles laid down in these notes and the findings of the Parliamentary Committee in the Mudgal case provide the central theme for a Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament and for codification of their privileges.

Among the principles laid down by Durgabai were the follow­ing:

A member should not try to secure business from government for a firm, company or organisation with which he is directly or indirectly concerned.

A member should not give certificates which are not based on facts.

A member should not make profit out of a government resi­dence allotted to him by sub-letting the premises.
A member should not unduly influence government officials or the ministers in a case in which he is interested
financially either directly or indirectly.
A member should not receive hospitality of any kind for any work that he desires or proposes to do from a person
or organ­isation on whose behalf the work is to be done by him.
A member should not proceed to take action on behalf of his constituents on some insufficient or baseless facts.

A member should not permit himself to be used as a ready supporter of anybody's grievances or complaints.

A member should not endorse incorrect certificates on bills claiming amounts due to him.

A member should not write recommendatory letters or speak to government officials for employment or business
contacts for any of his relations or other persons in whom he is directly or indirectly interested.

Vaidya and Shah extracted the five general principles laid down in May's Parliamentary Practice.

Syed Nausherali summed it all up when he said: "No repre­sentative of the people, far less a Member of Parliament, should utilise his position as a representative for the furtherance of his personal ends. What constitutes personal end is a question of fact to be decided in each individual case. I think it can be stated with­out any fear of contradition that a Member of Parliament cannot

15
A Code of Conduct

Are Indian MPs a privileged bunch of crass, ill-tempered individu­als who are outside the pale of the law and societal norms? Such disturbing thoughts cross one's rnind whenever one witnesses or reads about the misconduct of MPs in public places. Such in­stances are mercifully rare but each time it does happen there is so much publicity that it lingers in public memory. Such instances have also cumulatively altered the profile of MPs and in the public rnind put them in the class of the ungoverned because of the absence of a failsafe mechanism in political parties and Parliament to discipline and punish the wrongdoers.

Many MPs, who have come to misconstrue privilege as a licence, have contributed in no small measure to the altering of public perceptions. Two such honourable members who, in recent times, brought bad publicity for parliamentarians were those who misbehaved on the New Delhi-Calcutta Rajdhani Express on October 28,1992.

The duo humiliated and assaulted a passenger, N.R. Bannerjee, an Indian Administrative Service officer, when he objected to their usurping the seats of passengers holding valid reservations. The two MPs, who boarded the train at Gomoh and Dhanbad stations in Bihar, made such a disgusting spectacle of themselves, that the incident was widely reported in newspapers across the country. According to Bannerjee, the first MP, "along with three men, two of whom were probably his bodyguards and the other a security personnel in uniform", boarded the train at Gomoh and asked him to vacate his reserved seat. When Bannerjee, who was travelling with his family refused, the MP "ordered" his men to beat him up. Then, the guards accompanying the MP ''brandished their revolv­ers" and threatened to shoot him. But this was not the end of Ban-nerjee's woes. He was subjected to a second round of thrashing when the train halted at Dhanbad. This time, it was the turn of the second MP and his "ten armed supporters" to assualt him. They even tried to drag him out of the train and on to the station plat­form. (This is Bannerjee's account of the ugly incident as reported by a Calcutta newspaper)1

This incident sparked off a public outcry against such hooli­ganism. Commentators wondered whether presiding officers were aware of the damage that rowdy MPs did to the Institution of Parliament.

"In this particular case, one would like to be enlightened as to what measures of discipline are enforced upon people's repre­sentatives by the leaders of their party, and also by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who has been informed about their misdemeanour — amounting to a Member of Parliament terrorising citizens of this country — which should invite disqualification from the membership of the august House. Unless appropriate punishment is meted out, the infamy will infect the Institution itself — and thereby it will lose its very occupation."2

A letter writer, who hailed the article that condemned the be­haviour of these MPs, said "The assumption of the lumpen legis­lators that they are above the law of the land merely by virtue of being members of the body that frames them, is, to put it mildly, despotic and reprehensible."3
Press reports on the incident also spoke of the West Bengal Government's decision to take up the issue with the Bihar Govern­ment.4

But a full year after the incident, there is nothing to show that the MPs had been reprimanded by Parliament for their conduct even though the two Houses are fully empowered to take cogni-sance of such incidents and to punish recalcitrant members. Par­liament's powers to punish members is not confined to instances that may, in a sense, be described as corrupt practices, as in the Mudgal case. It extends to misconduct of every other kind which is "contrary to the usage, or derogatory to the dignity of the House or in any way inconsistent with the standards which Parliament is entitled to expect of its members."5

Equally significant is the response of political parties to inci­dents of this kind. There is no official statement by the political party to which these two MPs belong that even a cursory inquiry was instituted into the conduct of its members.

Incidents of this nature have however induced some thinking on the need for a code of conduct for Members of Parliament. A small but significant step in this direction was taken by the Lok Sabha Secretariat in November 1992 when it prepared a paper to facilitate discussion at a conference on "Discipline and Decorum in Parliament and State Legislatures". Among the annexures to the paper was a draft code of conduct for legislators.

The paper was circulated at the conference of presiding offi­cers, leaders of legislature parties and chief whips held in Madras. The code, which is split into seven little chapters, takes note of the difficulties inherent in attempting to draw up a code but goes ahead all the same.

The authors of the code say that "the extent and amplitude of the words "code of conduct" cannot be defined exhaustively; it is within the powers of the House in each case to determine whether a member has acted in an,unbecoming manner or has acted in a manner unworthy of a Member of Parliament. Thus, even though the facts of a particular case do not come within any of the recog­nised heads of breach of privilege or contempt of the House, the conduct of a member may be considered by the House as unbe­coming and derogatory to the dignity of the House."6
The document then goes on to deal with specifics and in the process provides a negative list of conduct rules. There are 24 gen­eral rules of etiquette and 11 rules to be observed while speaking

 

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